Nutrition and Health Benefits of Honey
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Honey gets its color in part from the harvested plant nectar. Sunflower honey tends to be bright yellow, buckwheat is most often dark, and orange blossom honey can be almost clear. The colors and specific flavors result from the specific phytochemistry of the nectar and pollen – and the environmental conditions in the hive. Generally speaking, darker honey has more antioxidants and stronger flavor than lighter-colored honey. Honey color and flavor can be further affected by storage length and environmental conditions.
Stored honey will often crystallize even when the concentration of water in the honey is not particularly low. Essentially some of the sugar comes out of the solution to form a solid, leaving a more dilute sugar solution behind. Crystallization is more likely when water concentrations are low and when relatively large quantities of crystal-seeding particles such as pollen are present. Crystallization isn’t a problem generally, but if the remaining solution becomes sufficiently dilute, some fermentation might take place. There’s generally no reason to avoid eating crystallized honey.
A lot of bee spit
Bees make honey by working very hard to collect nectar from flowers and/or other sweet plant secretions or from insect excretions (such as honeydew from aphids). This nectar, which is roughly 80 percent water, is collected into a special organ called the honey stomach and carried back to the hive. There, hive workers remove the nectar, mix it with their saliva, process it for a few minutes (the process is called chewing), and deposit it into honeycomb cells where water can evaporate from it. Bees even will fan the open cells of evaporating nectar with their wings to speed up the evaporation process.
Once the honey is thick enough, the honeycomb cells are sealed off with wax – but before sealing, pollen and other bits and pieces may get into the honey. A pound of honey represents the lifetime work of more than 500 bees. A healthy beehive might consume from 100 to 200 pounds of honey in the course of a year, so it takes a lot of honey to make honey.
More than empty calories
Honey is valued as a sweetener, but honey packs much more than a sweet punch. Scientific studies have demonstrated that honey has some level of antimicrobial activity, thanks to the presence of compounds such as flavonoids, and some raw honeys have been shown to reduce fat oxidation in meats and browning in some fruits. Some honeys also exhibit more general antioxidant capabilities and can neutralize a class of reactive compounds known to damage DNA and other cellular constituents.